As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines,1 Timothy 1:3(NASB)
After his short introductory remarks to Timothy, Paul reminded his 'son in the faith' of some earlier advice he gave him on carrying out his pastoral duties in Ephesus, and the importance of addressing any strange doctrines that had been brought into the congregation.
Not only is Paul's epistle a personal letter to a spiritual son, encouraging Timothy to be faithful, to stand firm in the faith, to communicate the truth of the gospel, and give advice on the selection of church elders, but he warns against apostasy and false teaching within the congregation.
It is immediately after his initial salutation, that Paul addresses this issue of strange doctrines within the church, reminding the younger man of instructions he had already received from the older apostle: "As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia," Paul reminded Timothy, "remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines."
Throughout his ministry, one of the greatest concerns of the apostle Paul was those who deliberately infiltrated Christian communities from outside or within the congregation. Such men would draw others away from the pure gospel of grace which Paul himself had received by direct revelation from the Lord Jesus.
Paul called any gospel that did not line up with his own teaching a 'strange doctrine'. Often, it was teachers of the Law or Jewish converts who were the culprits, because they insisted on integrating legalistic practices and Old Testament teachings into the New Testament gospel of grace.
As the Church grew, false teachers often incorporated myths, 'old wives' tales', and 'endless genealogies' into the pure gospel of Christ, distorting the truth while promoting empty speculations and foolish imaginings. It is in this verse, that Paul reminds Timothy of the time he urged him to continue teaching in Ephesus so that he could address this problem of 'bizarre doctrine'.
Timothy joined Paul on his second missionary journey when he had a night-vision of a man calling him to 'come over to Macedonia and help us'. But it was on his third missionary journey, as Paul returned to visit Macedonia, that he urged Timothy to remain on in Ephesus so that he could address this issue of false teachings and instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines.
It is obvious from this verse that the problem of false teachers and the introduction of strange doctrine, was the reason that Timothy was left in Ephesus and charged with addressing this issue. We are not told what bizarre doctrine had infiltrated the church at Ephesus, but false teaching was one of the biggest problems facing the early Church, and continues to be of serious concern today.
Paul was well aware that the transforming power of the gospel can be seriously impeded by false teachers who twist the truth. Whether by adding some unscriptural dogma, subtracting or changing the truth of the gospel of Christ, or introducing some new and unfamiliar teaching, these false teachings can too often cause confusion or discouragement and prevent believers from growing in grace and maturing in the faith.
Realising the increasing amount of false teachings that were already infiltrating the early Church during the times of Paul, helps us understand the serious nature of the many strange creeds and teachings that taint the true gospel message today.
May we seek to be vigilant in prayer, courageously stand firm in the faith, be obedient to God's call on our life, equip ourselves with a knowledge of the truth, and live a life that honours our Father in heaven.
Heavenly Father, when I consider how seriously a Christian’s spiritual growth can be impeded by false doctrine and how deeply entrenched many unscriptural teachings have become within churches today, I pray that in Your goodness and grace, You would expose false teachers and their demonic doctrines which have affected so many church members. Give discernment to all Your children, and give elders and pastor-teachers the discernment to identify unscriptural dogma, and root out and expose certain men and women who are doing such tremendous damage to the Body of Christ. Give me discernment, I pray, and help me to be vigilant and stand firm in the faith for Your honour and glory. In Jesus' name, AMEN.